Must read: Allison Baker on Image Expo and the Public Perception Problem

201401141529 Must read: Allison Baker on Image Expo and the Public Perception Problem

Alison Baker is co-publisher of Monkeybrain Comics and I think it’s no secret that her super-power is bering super smart: when she isn’t promoting and publishing comics, she’s working as a political operative, making political ads for campaigns. Thus the debut of her new column “ALLISON TYPES
” for CBR
is good news all around. And for her first topic, she doesn’t mince words, but wades into the Image Expo diversity issue full throttle.

Baker’s take is a smart one, pointing out that the overly white male presence on stage does not reflect the goals or make-up of Image Comics behind the scenes, where Jennifer deGuzman and David Brothers (to name but two) are on staff, and a diverse line-up of creators are making comics. However, it does send a message:

The whole event is essentially a giant ad for Image, spotlighting the people who make the books to help sell them and promote the Image brand. Shouldn’t we see a more realistic snapshot of what that Image family looks like? And shouldn’t that family look like ALL of us? Shouldn’t it be that way at every publisher?

I don’t have to explain this is not a single publisher issue. It’s an industry-wide issue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at convention photos in disgust because everyone one on the panel was a white man and the panel topic wasn’t “How it Feels to be a White Man.” It’s really not hard to find someone of another gender or race to talk about any subject in comics with authority and put them on a panel.

Baker ends with the call for action I’ve often tagged as “if you want to be inclusive you need to include people:”

Until we can actually SEE a diverse group of creators, put them out front and center, the perception of a comics as a sea of vanilla-flavored men will persist, reinforcing the existing problem. Keeping it from changing. We will continue to be deprived of art coming from a broader base of experience. We will continue to be small.

It’s EVERYONE’S business. And we can ALL do better.

Comments

  1. I think Allison makes some excellent points. But this stuck out to me:

    “Shouldn’t we see a more realistic snapshot of what that Image family looks like? And shouldn’t that family look like ALL of us? ”

    I think she’s right, but she’s ignoring why those creators were chosen: They’re all “big name” comic book creators. Image is going for the bang here, so they want to announce books by popular creators.

    The problem is that the majority of these creators became well known because of their work for hire work. Sure, Fraction had a nice following with Rex Mantooth, but it’s his Marvel work that’s gotten him a substantial audience.

    And the problem with that is that the Big Two have had a habit of hiring nothing but white dudes for the last…well, forever.

  2. Mikael says:

    And most of these creators were picked up by the big two because of their work elsewhere. So no, as much as people want to keep pushing the blame back to the big two, you’re again missing the point.

  3. Glenn Simpson says:

    I always have trouble defining the difference between “making things more diverse” vs. “tokenism”. I am very much for diversity, but it seems like when someone makes a conscious effort to diversify something, then the other side accuses of doing it “just” to get things more diverse. So by that logic, the only way for things to change is naturally – when non-white-male creators make it big and go to work for Image, then there would be such on the stage. But THAT seems to ignore the disadvantage the minorities have due to being minorities…not sure what the answer is.

  4. Al Letson says:

    Totally get your point Glenn. No one wants tokenism. But that being said, you can find way to look for creators of color and women. I think the first key is finding ways to engage these creators. Breaking into comics is tough for anyone, regardless of gender or race. And as a writer, it’s pretty expensive. But if publishers actually make an effort to look I think they would find some really great gems. It’s about prioritizing it. Not just wanting inclusion or diversity because it “looks” good. But because it makes you a stronger company. Until ppl at the top actually believe that, then the status quo will remain.

  5. Snikt Snakt says:

    I could care less what race/gender a comic creator is, as long as they create work I enjoy reading.

  6. Glenn Simpson says:

    So then the goal is to make an effort to look for diversity, but not bring it in unless it can “do the job” as it were. But given the subjective nature of the evaluation process (someone being a “good writer” or not), is there any escape from the notion that any, say, female writer they bring in is probably at the expense of a potentially better male writer? That is, the person doing the hiring thinks the female writer is a better writer, but the “diversity critic” thinks that the male writer is a better writer. I’m more familiar with DC writers, so it’s like “So they hired Ann Nocenti because she’s a woman, because (insert male writer here) is a much better writer and they didn’t hire him.” It seems inescapable.

  7. Dan Ahn says:

    At least Allison comes out right up front and admits to being a political propagandist.

    I basically agree with upwards of 90% of her points, but the whole thing is rolled in a sicky agenda that most everyone in the world (minorities included) finds weirdly self-hating and unrealistic.

    I know a ton of females and minorities who started liking comics because of Superman, Batman, Wolverine, Deadpool. More good non-white male characters from non-white male creators would be a good thing. But instead we have this philosophy, from certain white people, that seems to demean minorities (and women) by suggesting that the only way to interest them in comics is to bait them with characters who look like them. That’s just unrealistic and insulting.

    More diversity in comics would be great. But calling people’s skin color “disturbing” is divisive, masochistic, and a recipe for dysfunction.

  8. I understand the need for diversity of talent, but there is a different way you can approach the problem.
    Start with making comics that appeal to a more diverse audience, because IT MAKES MONEY. It’s all about money. Once you have demonstrated this (comics created for this particular audience made money!!! ) the doors will open, and big companies will openly claim how diverse their talent pool is, by gosh, and ” we serve this very very important market segment, because, darn it, our own people are from that segment, and we celebrate that too!”
    Follow the money.

  9. Torsten Adair says:

    Al@:
    It’s already happening.
    Over in the “real world” of bookstores and libraries, there are a large number of female creators making bestselling books.
    From the 2013 NY Times Bestseller lists for hardcover graphic novels:
    Hope Larson (an adaptation, words and pictures)
    Alison Bechdel
    Kate Beaton
    Lynda Barry
    Audrey Niffenegger (!!!)
    Maris Wicks
    Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

    That doesn’t include the talent working for DC and Marvel.
    But those cartoonists… they work for mainstream publishers like Scholastic and Abrams and Hachette, publishers who don’t have to deal with the diversity issue, because they never had that problem!

    So, yeah, I think it’s a problem that each publisher has to consider.
    DC’s New 52 launch was tarred with this brush.
    Marvel… they didn’t relaunch, so nobody had a starting point to consider… but it’s been a problem for decades.

  10. >>>I could care less what race/gender a comic creator is, as long as they create work I enjoy reading.

    That’s awesome; unfortunately many people who make decisions on what to publish do not share your egalitarian viewpoint and unconsciously—or consciously, I am sorry to say—discriminate in hiring practices.

    >>>I always have trouble defining the difference between “making things more diverse” vs. “tokenism”.

    As I’ve stated here several times one person’s token is another person’s pioneer.

    IF you are planning an event and have only one non white male and think “Gee if I put that person in here it will be just a token” then you are an asshole.

    Can we get one thing straight: there are dozens/scores/hundreds of black/Asian/Latino/gay/female comics creators. It is not just Colleen Doran and Denys Cowan who have to step in every time you need diversity. Or Olivier Coipel and Gail Simone. There are hundreds of people who should be included just because they are talented AND HAVE A FOLLOWING.

  11. Al Letson says:

    <>Dan Ahn, is that what you got from Allison’s post? Because what I got is that it’s disturbing how narrow in focus the panel was. How narrow in focus most comic panels are.
    I’m African American, I’ve been collecting comics and attending cons since I was 12 (I’m 40 now) and I can tell you, it’s disheartening when you don’t see yourself represented either in characters or in creators. I fell in love with Spider-Man and the X-men regardless of their skin color. But after awhile, you begin to wonder why you never see your culture reflected. This might not seem like a big thing to white men, but if you’re not white, or male it is a big deal. I want to read stories where I, am relevant.

    <> Totally agree.

  12. >> But given the subjective nature of the evaluation process (someone being a “good writer” or not), is there any escape from the notion that any, say, female writer they bring in is probably at the expense of a potentially better male writer?>>

    If someone’s making that kind of assumption, without ever once thinking the same kind of thing about male writers, that’s an example of institutional sexism — they’re assuming that “male” is the default, and “non-male” needs to be questioned.

    Same thing if you’re wondering, “Why’d they hire a black guy? Did some superior white guy not get a job he was entitled to?” without ever considering “Why’d they hire a white guy? Are there black guys out there who didn’t even get their samples read?”

    And so on.

    The idea that male (or white, or straight) is “normal” and anything else is “other” and may therefore be suspect, goes back to Simone de Beauvoir, and probably a lot further.

    kdb

  13. I love this…

    “IF you are planning an event and have only one non white male and think “Gee if I put that person in here it will be just a token” then you are an asshole.”

    To the point and sharp at that!

    The argument of “tokenism” is an ignorant one as it ignores a large piece of the puzzle. It ignores the fact that there is a social imbalance that’s been in play for centuries (which is easy to miss for those benefiting from that imbalance). Consciously and conspicuously making an effort to include people for the sake of inclusion is a way to try to manually fix that issue; both by getting those in that system used to the new paradigm and by letting those excluded know they are valued.

    Perhaps arguing tokenism is a subconscious refusal to admit that there’s a massive error in our social framework? I know a lot of people (myself once included) felt as though admitting that we benefit from institutionalized discrimination was akin to admitting to causing the issue themselves. If so, think of it this way: you didn’t cause it, you didn’t choose it, but you can choose to help change it. “Manual Inclusion” (that is, making an effort to find non-whites to complement the ranks) is one of the many ways to do this.

  14. Serhend Sirkecioglu says:

    What people are advocating for is exactly as the headline suggests: perception not reality. we are focusing too much on equal outcomes and not enough on equal opportunities. Being a woman, black, Muslim, Hindi, etc. is not all to the equation of comics success. First you have to be raised in a pro-creative environment, you then have to either have easy access to a library, book store, or comics shop(and money to buy comics), you gotta develop into a interesting cartoonist(art school or not), you gotta to have a interesting enough project for a publisher to hire you, and you gotta sell books…that’s a tall order of equal outcomes especially the last one which is ultimately on the consumer. People like Spike Trotman are going in the right direction, creating opportunities for others. don’t cross your arms and tap your feet waiting for them to happen.

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